Staying motivated though?
That’s a different story!
Once the excitement of doing something new and positive wears off, it takes hard work to stay on track.
The majority of the questions I get asked are not about exercises or recipes; they are about how to stay motivated. It’s mostly things like:
- “I can’t stick with a program for more than 2-3 weeks before I go back to old habits.”
- “I’m fine at home, but when I go out the temptation to eat poorly is too strong!”
- “I know I need to exercise, but I can’t get myself motivated after work…”
- “Donuts own my soul.”
This is unfortunately all too common, and it’s easy to get down on yourself and feel ashamed. The whole point of under-taking a heroes’ transformation is to control of your own destiny, but here you are feeling like you have no control over your urges or life.
It can be extremely frustrating.
You want to make positive changes, but your brain keeps rebelling!
So today we are going to talk about how willpower and priorities feed your motivation, and how to make changes that will help you follow through with your goals.
If you follow these steps, I guarantee you will be able to come up with a solid plan to keep yourself motivated and on track.
That’s right, today we figure out how to win at motivation.
First, let’s just all agree that motivation takes willpower. Okay?
Second, I want to cover some familiar ground before we move on.
Willpower is a finite resource!
Just like your health or power bar in a video-game, once you use it up you have to rest until it fills back up.
When you play a fighting or role-playing game, and as you face new opponents or go exploring a fantastical world, you will end up in encounters that deplete your energy.
In order to win, your goal is to defeat the bad guys while staying alive. Pretty simple right?
I guess it depends on how good you are at video-games!
All I know is that when I fire up my Xbox, I have to be careful who I pick fights with.
If I am playing a RPG and I fight an enemy that’s too powerful, I will quickly find myself loading up a save game after I die horribly; or if I am playing a fighting game I need to make sure that my opponent over the Internet isn’t a 12-year-old who beats me down in 5 seconds flat.
People fail at fitness many different ways, but the most common is over-estimating how much willpower they have.
When you are making positive changes to your life, when you are setting your goals, think about them in terms of a video-game.
Don’t duel an enemy that’s out of your league – If the most exercise you’ve ever done is mowing the lawn or carrying in the groceries from the car, it might not be the wisest decision to sign up for that triathlon all your friends are doing. That is probably a dragon (or 12-year-old Street Fighter master) you are not ready to slay yet, start small and work your way up to it!
Don’t fight too many enemies at once – There is nothing like minding your own business and running face-first into a goblin horde! It sucks, they’re smelly, and you’re probably going to die. Instead, embrace your inner sniper and pick them off one by one from afar… Legolas style. This is why I recommend setting no more than three goals for yourself at any given time.
Don’t attack without recovering – While it might be fun to just power through encounter after encounter with reckless abandon, the fact is if you don’t take a moment to recover in between fights you will be starting at a disadvantage. Don’t forget to give yourself some downtime occasionally; not only is it good for your mental health, but that way when you really need it your willpower won’t be too tired to rise to the occasion.
When you are feeling like you can’t stay motivated, ask yourself if you are making one of these mistakes… and if you are, hit pause on the game and make some changes!
Modify Your Character
If you will indulge me, I’m going to stick with the gaming analogy for a few more minutes.
So since your willpower isn’t infinite, you are probably going to have to work on leveling up your willpower points and modifying your behavior (e.g. – habits) to make sure you never empty the tank.
First we need to remember what a habit really is.
A habit is composed of three parts:
- A trigger
- A routine
- A reward
This is why you incessantly check your social media, it’s the reason you always watch the same movies or TV show reruns when you just want to “turn your brain off“, it’s why you crave certain comfort foods.
You have unknowingly trained yourself that when you experience a trigger (notification pops up, you plop down on the couch to unwind, see your favorite junk food) you perform a certain action and then you expect a reward (you feel up-to-date with your friends, bask in the glow of nostalgia, experience a sugar high).
As you repeat these sequences over time they become habits.
Once you understand how the sequence of trigger/routine/reward forms habits, you can start replacing your old, busted habits with shiny new positive ones instead.
Never forget, our bodies and minds are amazing machines that are capable of amazing feats and of conquering Herculean tasks… but they also can be lazy jerks if you let them.
Humans (usually unconsciously) will do everything they can to be more efficient. Unless challenged, we are designed to pick the path of least resistance; to use as little physical energy and willpower necessary to get us through our day.
Don’t believe me?
Let yourself coast through a day following your daily routine on auto-pilot and see how much willpower you use (Spoiler Alert – it will be next to none!)
But we don’t want to just coast through life, do we?
No! We want to forge our own destinies!
And that is going to cost some willpower points.
Replacing an old habit with a new one isn’t necessarily hard, it just feels that way because it requires some brain-power and effort.
Before I ramble on too much, just remember these important things:
- We only have so much willpower to go around.
- The more difficult the habit is to change, the more willpower it takes to change it.
- When your willpower starts getting low, you will start wanting to give up.
So we need to train ourselves, and exercise, to level up our willpower.
Like a Rocky montage…
For our brains.
So I want you to follow these rules while you train up your willpower!
1) Pick your enemies wisely – Tell me how you think this scenario ends… You decide you want to learn to play Street Fighter, so you buy the game and learn the controls (you might even read a strategy guide!) and then the next day you challenge the Ultra Street Fighter 4 Evo World Champion to a match.
How’s that going to work out for you?
Probably the same way waking up and deciding out of the blue that you are going to compete in a triathlon the next day, or that you are going to throw out all the food in your refrigerator and replace it all with nothing but raw veggies and lean cuts of meat, would.
Instead of going all out right away, take some time and build up your experience, willpower, and momentum by picking some easy tasks (there’s a reason almost all RPG video games start out with you killing some rats in a stranger’s cellar after all).
Things like drinking one less soda each day, trying one new fruit or vegetable a week, or eating out one less time a week work great if you are trying to transition to a cleaner diet.
If you are trying to get in better shape, and build some muscle, then start by doing simple exercises every other day. The goal at first shouldn’t be anything more than making the act of exercising automatic.
Once it is, then you can start upping the intensity because the act itself will be on auto-pilot (no willpower required!)
Amazing results are the outcome of small, sometimes imperceptible, changes over time.
2) Avoid fighting a war on all fronts – No matter how tough you think you are, if you pick a bunch of fights all at the same time you will get your ass kicked.
One or two goblins? Not so tough… a goblin horde zerg though?
That can be dangerous!
They key to building better habits that you can sustain is changing them one at a time, not ten at a time. Since your willpower is limited, pick habits to change one at a time.
Don’t get impatient and pick your bad habits off one-by-one!
3) Don’t do battle when you are tired – Work on changing your habits when your mind is clear and fresh. Trying to motivate yourself to do something new, that isn’t on auto-pilot, and after your brain has been turned to mush from a long day at work, is hard!
If you are struggling to stay motivated with your new workout routine or diet, maybe try to implement these changes before your willpower reserves are depleted?
If you are just starting out and trying to eat one healthy meal a day, how about making it your first meal of the day instead of lunch or dinner? Smoothies make a great breakfast choice!
If you are always too tired to workout after you make it through the day, exercise first thing in the morning!
Life is always going to throw you curve balls, so plan ahead for them, and get the important stuff out of the way early in the day while you are still fresh.
4) Get into a groove – We’ve talked about this before, but getting into a manageable routine is the key to success. Willpower is only really needed for new decisions and new habits, not for things your brain has already automated.
So make things as easy as you can by removing as many decision points from your day as you can.
For example – Do you find yourself struggling to pick a healthy lunch option at work? Then pack something healthy in the morning to bring with you so that decision point stops being an issue.
The easier you can make it for your mind and body to take the path of least resistance, the more likely it is you will succeed!
Think about it like learning the pattern on the first levels of Super Mario Land so you can focus all your attention on beating the newer, later levels as you encounter them.
By being systematic in the way you train yourself, you will start seeing quick wins and building up the strength of your willpower. Then you can move on and tackle the harder battles in the game of life with confidence!
Don’t Go Alone
At first I wasn’t going to see this video-game analogy through to the end, but now I am kind of into it…
One of the best ways to keep from dying in an RPG video game is by having a strong party to back you up!
Even if you’ve taken all the right steps to prioritize and change your habits, at some point you still might need some help when that willpower power bar gets low.
That’s what your group is for!
Don’t be afraid to ask them; not only for support but also to help with things you might not be great at. Warriors are great at smashing heads, but not so good at finding secret doors. Thieves might be able to sneak past guards, but not so much at healing wounds.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so just surround yourself with people who compliment you and are willing to lend a hand (or healing spell) when you need it.
When you feel your willpower waning, or are having a hard time following through with something, ask your group for help!
- Find a few friends that want to be accountabilibuddies and make gym appointments with each other.
- All of you get FitBits and have contests to see who can take the most steps in a day.
- Send each other SnapChats of your lunch choices.
- Utilize the “Phone a Friend” lifeline if you feel like you are going to make a bad food choice.
Whatever it takes!
So what about you? What do you do to maintain your motivation? How do you stay on track?
Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. – One more time, here’s the – “The Power of Habit“. Don’t sleep on this if you struggle with habits you are struggling with!
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